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Moronta v. Griffen

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 11, 2014

JULIO MORONTA, Petitioner,
v.
PATRICK GRIFFEN, Respondent.

OPINION & ORDER

KATHERINE B. FORREST, District Judge.

On June 11, 2013, petitioner Julio Moronta ("petitioner" or "Moronta") filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("the petition"). (ECF No. 2.) The petition seeks relief from Moronta's March 24, 2010 conviction, following a jury trial, of one count of murder in the second degree. (New York Penal Law § 125.25[1].) The trial judge sentenced Moronta to 25 years to life in prison.

On June 5, 2012, the Appellate Division, First Department, unanimously affirmed Moronta's conviction. See People v. Moronta , 945 N.Y.S.2d 303 (1st Dep't 2012. On December 26, 2012, the New York Court of Appeals denied Moronta leave to appeal without opinion. (See Ans., Ex. H, Oct. 18, 2013, ECF No. 9.) Moronta is currently incarcerated pursuant to that conviction.

Moronta challenges his conviction on the grounds that the trial court violated his constitutional due process rights by denying his request for a jury instruction on the state law affirmative defense of extreme emotional disturbance. Moronta also claims that the sentence imposed by the trial judge is excessive and should be reduced in the interests of justice. (See Petition, June 11, 2013, ECF No. 2.)

For the reasons set forth below, Moronta's habeas petition is DENIED in full.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On August 16, 2008 in the late-evening, petitioner learned that his former common-law wife and the mother of his daughter, 35-year-old Eduvigis Eustate, was socializing outside of a salon at 148th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem.[1] (Memorandum of Law in Support of Answer Opposing Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Resp't Mem.") at 12, Oct. 18, 2013, ECF No. 10; Ans., Ex. A at 8.) Petitioner went to where Eustate was located and found Eustate with her new boyfriend, Edgar Vicente, and another individual with whom petitioner believed Eustate was sleeping, Alex Cuervas.[2] (Ans., Ex. A at 8-9.) According to petitioner, he went to visit Eustate - despite the existence of a protective order that forbid such contact[3] - because their teenage daughter had stopped calling him.[4] (Tr. 471.) Petitioner testified that he "was going to get on the bus and I had to go by 148th Street" (tr. 469), so decided to "go[] by to see if I saw her so I can ask her why my daughter hadn't called me." (Tr. 469, 471.) Petitioner testified that he believed that Eustate and Vicente were keeping petitioner's daughter from contacting him. (Tr. 531; Ex. 27.)

While Vicente and Cuervas were otherwise occupied, Eustate saw petitioner, told him he was a bad man and a bad husband (Ex. 27), and said to him: "You and I have separated for two years ago, you big stupid fag." (Ex. 27; Tr. 532.) Thereafter, petitioner stabbed Eustate in the back using a six-inch kitchen knife.[5] (Resp't Mem. at 2.) Petitioner testified: "I got pissed off and I had a knife with me and I took it out and swung at her. I kind of lost my head out of jealousy and things. I don't know what happened. It was seconds. It went really fast." (Tr. 457.) When asked whether he stabbed Eustate, petitioner testified: "At the moment I didn't really realize it." (Tr. 457.)[6] The knife's six-inch blade was forced eight inches into Eustate's body. (Resp't Mem. at 2.)

Petitioner then turned and lunged for Cuervas. (Tr. 161.) Cuervas ran away and testified that as he was coming back to the scene with a garbage can for protection, he saw where petitioner had stabbed Eustate in the stomach. (Tr. 134, 166.) Petitioner again tried to attack Cuervas. (Tr. 134.) Vincente noticed the commotion and as he neared the scene, petitioner started chasing and swinging the knife at Vincente. (Tr. 197-99.)

Nearby police officers also noticed the commotion and upon arriving to the scene of the incident, confronted petitioner (who was still brandishing the knife). (Tr. 282.) The police officers told petitioner to freeze and drop the knife (tr. 254); petitioner complied and was subsequently arrested and transported to the local precinct by other officers who subsequently had arrived on the scene. (Tr. 267-68.)

While petitioner testified that he did not say anything to these officers while being transported (tr. 492-93), one of the officers testified in rebuttal that petitioner "loudly" and "calmly" said "she deserved it" in Spanish during the drive to the precinct. (Tr. 540-43)[7]

The arresting officers remained with Eustate until an ambulance arrived. (Tr. 265, 321-22.) Eustate died at the hospital a few hours later; she had three stab wounds - one to the upper back and two to the abdomen - and the coroner testified the back and one of the abdomen wounds were the causes of death (and that each independently could have caused the death). (Tr. 392.) At 4:40 a.m., petitioner wrote and signed a statement admitting that he had attacked Eustate with a knife. (Tr. 526-28, Ex. 27.)[8]

On September 8, 2008, a grand jury indicted petitioner for one count of murder in the second degree (New York State Penal Law § 125.25[1]) and two counts of attempted assault (New York State Penal Law §§ 110/120.10[1]).

At trial, petitioner testified that he blacked out the entire incident; he stated that he cannot remember anything from the time he saw Eustate sitting with Cuevas and Vincente until the time he was being arrested. (Tr. 457-59, 480-81, 493-94.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

At the close of testimony, defense counsel requested an extreme emotional disturbance charge. Defense counsel stated: "I believe that there is a reasonable view of the evidence, that Mr. Moronta, when he saw his ex-wife surrounded by people who he perceived to be her current lover, in his condition, which was intoxicated, had an extreme emotional disturbance [and] acted on that extreme emotional disturbance." (Tr. 547.) Counsel went on to state: "[T]he fact that [Mr. Moronta] had this long-standing relationship with her, and the fact that he was jealous and that he couldn't stand to see her with somebody else was reasonable from his [perspective] to have that extreme emotional disturbance." (Tr. 547.) The trial court denied defendant's request, finding that defendant had failed to put forward sufficient evidence to satisfy the elements of the defense. (Tr. 554-55)[9]

On March 24, 2010, [10] Moronta was convicted, following a jury trial, of murder in the second degree; he was found not guilty on the two counts of attempted assault. (Tr. 631-32.) Defense counsel made a CPL § 330 motion to set aside the verdict, in part based on the trial court's failure to charge the jury with ...


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